The pristine sands of Boracay in 2010.
Photo courtesy of PeopleAsia
‘Ber na, Bora na?
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2018 - 12:00am

In what seems to be a contradiction of her role as the saleswoman of the country’s top tourist spots, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat is actually pleading for less tourists to visit the once pristine shores of Boracay.

Say that again?

“For us in the Department of Tourism, it is not the numbers that matter most but ultimately how to make a balance between business opportunities and social responsibility,” Berna said quite succinctly before the Rotary Club of Manila at a forum at the New World Makati Hotel.

Saying 98 percent of tourists go to Boracay by air, Berna aired an urgent request to airlines to limit their flights to Boracay. Philippine Airlines president Jimmy Bautista, who was present during the forum, immediately responded by saying that starting next year, PAL will only fly once a day to Caticlan. PAL used to have at least four daily flights to Caticlan Airport, a short boat ride away to the island, which does not have an airport.

“The Boracay experience is the ultimate lesson in balancing development and protecting the environment,” Berna stressed.

Berna said that when Boracay reopens, “We shall be very strict in implementing reforms.”

For one, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will soon announce Boracay’s utmost “carrying capacity” to ensure that tourist arrivals do not exceed the tolerable number of visitors on the island. In other words, excess baggage has no room in the island.

Boracay before its rehabilitation. It will partially reopen to the public on Oct. 26. Photo by Joanne Rae M. Ramirez

Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, or a woman who has gone for detoxification in a Himalayan spa, Boracay’s return is much awaited.

But wait. Berna doesn’t want us to expect a totally rejuvenated island when Boracay makes a comeback on Oct. 26.

“Oct. 26 is the phase one, phase two will be April of 2019 and phase three will be December of 2019. Again, I have to stress that Oct. 26 is a soft opening, because you cannot rehabilitate in six months an island that was under a state of calamity,” Berna stressed.

She said that aside from the initial list of 25 resorts that the Department of Tourism has given the thumbs up, a second list is forthcoming.

“Again we will be stressing on the 100-percent compliance,” she added.

She told members of the club headed by president Susing Pineda, most of whom are friends of her father, former senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, that though they may not be dismayed by the news, big parties will now be banned in Boracay.

“I know you won’t be affected but maybe your children will be,” she quipped. “There will be no more parties such as ‘La Boracay.’ Because it has brought thousands of visitors thereby leaving mountains of trash in this tiny island. And when you have ‘La Boracay’ party, you have at least 60,000 to 70,000 visitors just for three days. Boracay cannot take this. The rehabilitation of the sewage system in the island is also ongoing to make way of efficient waste disposal.”

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat at the Rotary Club of Manila forum in New World Makati Hotel. With her are Rotarians (from left) Arthur Lopez, Robert Lim Joseph, Susing Pineda (club president) and Chito Zaldarriaga.

“Again a lot of people had been upset about this, but we will definitely ban smoking and drinking on the White Beach as well as other places on the island,” noted Berna. “Why? Because you want your grandchildren and children, you want them to walk in the island barefoot, without you getting worried that they would be wounded because there are broken bottles or you go to the beach to have pure white sand, not cigarette ashes. And there will definitely be 25-meter easement because you want to see more of the beach, not tables and chairs. I know Boracay is known for its fire dance but you cannot use gas anymore, because that’s against the law. I don’t know how, but you can find ways of making it more environmental friendly.” She said that the government of Malay, to which Boracay belongs, has also banned single-use plastics.

According to Berna — hooray — another regulation that President Duterte wants to be implemented would be against noise pollution.

“So those who want karaoke, the President is not against people singing My Way but there has to be insulation. Because we want people to be able to sleep!” Berna pointed out.

Smoking and drinking are prohibited in public places. “Actually smoking and drinking can be done in private, we’re not telling you to stop — but actually you should stop smoking, honestly,” she quipped.

*  *  *

Boracay was a hard lesson learned.

 “What we learned from this experience is not exclusively for Boracay alone,” she shared. But it also showed that closing down Boracay temporarily did not cripple the tourism industry because the Philippines is not just Boracay.

She said that much to her surprise, “Despite the closure of Boracay, visitor arrivals (led by the Koreans) from the period of January to July of 2018 increased by 9.7 percent. In July alone, if you compare it month on month, it increased by 5.8 to six percent. If you look at the July figures tourism arrivals, if you compare June to July 2018 visitor arrivals, it increased of 11.35 percent,” she said, citing figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

In closing, Berna urged every Filipino to be the best tour guide and tourist in the country. “Let us all be citizens proud of the fact that we are without the doubt the most fun people in the world.”

Fun people, who clean up after themselves, that is.

Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) chairman Angelito Banayo (third from right) and Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) president Michael Lin (third from left) turn over to Jay-Ar Castro (fourth from left) the Education Policy amounting to P1 million reserved for the college education of Given Grace Castro (center), the daughter of the late OFW Melody Castro. Melody died in the 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan last February. Also in photo are TCCI vice president and charity committee Emily Huang and MECO directors Cesar M. Drilon Jr., Rommel L. Sytin and Eddie U. Tamondong.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

BERNA ROMULO-PUYAT BORACAY
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